NC Rail Safety Group Opposes “Railblazers” School Mascot

A railroad safety education organization announced Wednesday they are strongly opposed to the new mascot at Selma Middle School.

On March 20th, in a 5-to-2 vote, the Johnston County Board of Education voted to do away with the Vikings mascot – the only mascot Selma Middle has ever known – and rename the mascot the Railblazers, saying a new mascot would boost morale for the underperforming school when it becomes a Restart school in 2018-19.

Today, North Carolina Operation Lifesaver (NCOL) issued a statement saying they are very concerned a Railblazers train mascot could encourage children to take chances around train tracks.

“NCOL and other rail safety proponents are extremely concerned about the proposed mascot change,” according to State Coordinator and Executive Director Margaret Connell. “So many people are unaware that all tracks are private property and that being on them is trespassing. An equal number of people take chances around trains – walking or standing too close to or along tracks, riding bicycles, dirt bikes, and ATVs near and across tracks, and, worst of all, not paying attention when crossing tracks in their vehicles. When adults are unaware of safe rail practices, we can’t expect children to know such information.”

“Trains are longer, quieter, and faster than ever before,” Connell said. “Rail traffic will increase in the future, and having a ‘Railblazers’ as a middle school mascot will almost certainly lead to more kids, and teachers, exploring dangerous and potentially deadly tracks.”

“Unfortunately, due to the romanticized history of the open rail, train hopping, and hobos, as well as Hollywood’s frequent inclusion of dangerous behavior in TV and movies people don’t realize the danger that tracks can present to careless people. Creating a friendly ‘Railblazer’ mascot encourages the illusion that tracks are not dangerous and not to be taken seriously,” Connell told WTSB News and

“After all, you can always jump off the track when you hear the train, right? Tell that to the 15 people who died while walking on tracks in North Carolina last year. And so far this year, eight people have died on tracks in North Carolina –  three in vehicles that were hit by trains, and five while trespassing.”

“Every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train in the United States. Having a “Railblazers” mascot won’t help change that statistic,” Connell added.

In 2017 in Johnston County, 5 train incidents occurred resulting in 4 injuries.  Two train-related fatalities occurred in Johnston County in 2016 and 3 in 2015.

During the last 10 years, 9 trespassing fatalities have occurred on train tracks in Johnston County and 23 others were injured.

According to NC Operation Lifesaver, Johnston County has 71 highway-rail crossings. 65 have gates. Four rail-crossing deaths occurred in the county between 2007 and 2017.

“Long story short, NCOL considers the ‘Railblazers’ a bad idea,” Connell stated.

NCOL is a non-profit rail safety education organization, part of Operation Lifesaver, Inc. Their mission is to reduce collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and trespassing on or near railroad tracks.

At the March 20th Board of Education meeting, school board members Ronald Johnson and Teresa Grant requested the vote on the Railblazers mascot be delayed for 30 days because school leaders did not know the actual cost of the mascot change.  The 30-day delay was rejected and in a 5-to-2 vote the board decided to proceed immediately with the new mascot.  Board Chairman Mike Wooten, Vice Chair Dorothy Johnson, Todd Sutton, Dr. Peggy Smith and Butler Hall all voted for the mascot change.

During the 2016-17 school year, Selma Middle scored a “D” on the NC Report Card.  The school scored 29, or an “F”, on end of grade math and 46, or a “D”, on reading.   The overall Selma Middle performance score was 40.  91 percent of all students at the school are economically disadvantaged.

The Restart during the 2018-19 school year is designed to turn those numbers around. School officials are pinning their hopes on the new Railblazers mascot for a change in morale.

Cannell said NC Operation Lifesaver would be writing a formal letter to the Johnston County school board, Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow, and Selma Middle School Principal Chris Germanoksi letting them know the new mascot has potential ramifications they may not have considered.